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Rupiah Banda Sworn In as Zambian President

In Zambia, Rupiah Banda has been sworn in as president after being declared the winner in Thursday's presidential election. Officials say Mr. Banda defeated opposition leader Michael Sata by a margin of two percentage points of the vote, but Sata's party is contesting. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our bureau in Dakar.

Rupiah Banda took the oath of office as Zambia's president, saying his administration would continue to welcome foreign investors and fight corruption. But he but added that its main focus would be the fight against poverty.

"We have come a long way these last seven years but there is still much to do. Too many Zambians have been left behind," said Banda. "They do not share in the economic prosperity of the Zambian economy."

Mr. Banda also urged the opposition to set aside petty squabbles after a short, but intense, electoral campaign. He said he did not intend to govern a divided nation.

Mr. Banda was sworn into office two hours after Zambia's Electoral Commission declared he won Thursday's presidential election with 40 percent of the vote, to opposition leader Michael Sata's 38 percent. Two other candidates divided the remaining votes.

Sata had jumped to an early lead Friday as initial returns came in from his strongholds in urban areas and Zambia's mining zones. But Mr. Banda overtook him Saturday as late election results came in from rural areas where his support is greatest.

The spokesman for Sata's Patriotic Front party, Given Lubinda, said the party would demand a recount because it had received evidence the poll was rigged.

"We do not and will not accept the election results that are being announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia," said Lubinda.

He said the party would seek legal redress through the Zambian courts.

But monitors from the Southern African Economic Community declared the elections free and transparent. The head of an observer group from the Electoral Institute for Southern Africa, Leshele Thoahlane, agreed.

"The stations that we went to, people were voting peacefully," said Thoahlane. "We did not see any acts of violence or acts of intimidation."

The elections were called after President Levy Mwanawasa died from a stroke in August.

Mr. Banda campaigned on pledges to continue Mr. Mwanawasa's pro-business policies which, along with a strong anti-corruption campaign, is credited with taming inflation and bringing five-percent annual economic growth.

Sata campaigned on the need for change, saying that the economic gains had not reached the poor who make up two-thirds of the population.

Voter turnout was less than 50 percent. Some observers say this was because of the short time available to prepare voters. Others say it was because the winner will only serve two years, the time remaining in Mr. Mwanawasa's term.